Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Boeing building new launch pad for 21st century

Posted: March 3, 2000

  Delta 4 family
An artist's concept of the Delta 4 family of rockets. Photo: Boeing
At a Florida launch site where humans made crucial strides toward the moon 30 years ago, The Boeing Company today is transforming the hallowed grounds into a gateway to Earth orbit for futuristic rockets.

A bit of history was written on a picture postcard morning Thursday when workers hoisted the symbolic last steel girder atop a sky-scaping service tower being built for the Delta 4 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The metal beam, which "topped off" the tower, was signed by employees of Boeing and its primary launch pad builder Raytheon Engineers & Constructors.

The ceremony was attended by the men and women involved in building the launch facility at Space Launch Complex 37B, the first brand new U.S. pad constructed from the ground up in three decades, Boeing boasts.

"Sometimes when you get caught up in the day-to-day challenges of getting your work done you kind of lose sight of the significance of what's being accomplished," said David Herst, Boeing's director of launch site services for Delta 4. "So today's a good opportunity to step back and be proud of what's been completed so far."

SLC 37B has been given a new lease on life after sitting idle since 1971. Between 1964 and 1968, the site served as the launching pad for eight Saturn 1 and 1B rockets, including the first flight of an unmanned Apollo lunar module.

Boeing is investing $250 million into the SLC 37B project, which should see its first launch in the spring of 2001.

Mobile tower
The Space Launch Complex 37B mobile service tower under construction. Photo: Boeing
The new 330-foot tall mobile tower topped off Thursday will enclose the Delta rockets during their eight to 10 days spent on the pad prior to liftoff. The 9-million pound structure rolls atop rails built in Europe and installed by engineers from Holland.

Other pieces of the 130-acre launch complex puzzle are being built as scheduled, Herst said.

Boeing, in partnership with Spaceport Florida Authority, are constructing the Horizontal Integration Facility where the Delta 4 rockets' stages will be assembled together before heading to the launch pad.

The 80,000-square-foot Delta Operations Center located about two miles from the pad is being prepared to house the 300-person Delta 4 launch team. The Apollo-era blockhouse at SLC 37 is being refurbished for day-to-day work and to serve as a communications support building. It will not be manned during launches due to safety reasons.

More than 32,000 cubic yards of concrete have been poured to form the pad's J-shaped flame duct, launch support shelter, launch deck and foundations of the gas farms.

Two giant sphere-shaped fuel tanks are now in place to hold the super-cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen rocket fuel for Delta 4. The LOX tank will hold 250,000 gallons and LH2 sphere about 850,000 gallons. The tanks' large supplies should allow for three consecutive launch attempts before having to be replenished.

A support building is located at the pad to provide air conditioning, power, communications and command and control support to the rockets.

Soon, two 400-foot tall lightning protection masts will be added, and construction of the pad's 200-foot tall umbilical tower should begin next month. The UT will have three swing arms that attach to the rocket during the countdown to service the first and second stages and satellite payload. The arms release at liftoff.

Also still to come: installation of the hydraulic erector that will lift the rockets into a vertical position on the pad.

Construction is expected to be completed later this year and the first Delta 4 rocket will be delivered to the Cape in December.

Boeing developed the Delta 4 family of five different boosters as part of the U.S. Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. EELV, which also includes Lockheed Martin's Atlas 5 rocket fleet, will reduce the cost of launching government and commercial satellite payloads into space.

The Delta 4 rockets will consist of a Common Booster Core (CBC) first stage featuring a new Rocketdyne RS-68 liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen engine. The vehicles will be topped with either a second stage from the older Delta 2 or Delta 3 rockets.

Accounting for four of the rocket versions are Delta 4 Medium vehicles with one CBC. The variants will have either a 4- or 5-meter diameter payload fairing and between zero and four strap-on solid rocket motors.

The massive Delta 4 Heavy will have three CBCs linked together, a 5-meter payload fairing and enhanced Delta 3 second stage.

Second stage
Pad erection
Payload preps
A series of artist's concepts show the activities surrounding a Boeing Delta 4 launch. The rocket arrives by ship, second stage added and rocket transported for erection on pad. Meanwhile, satellite undergoes processing, is encapsulated and taken to pad. Launch then follows. Delta 4 Heavy rocket pictured. Photos: Boeing

The inaugural Delta 4 launch will probably use a rocket flying in the Medium+ configuration with a 4-meter payload fairing and two strap-solid rocket motors. Boeing hopes to sell the launch to a commercial company with a paying satellite passenger.

The rockets are being built at Boeing's plant in Decatur, Alabama. After assembly and checkout, the rocket stages are shipped aboard the Delta Mariner ship to the launch site. The arrival station at Cape Canaveral will be the Military Wharf at nearby Port Canaveral.

The stages are then offloaded and transported to the 75,000-square-foot Horizontal Integration Facility under construction about a half-mile from the launch pad. Once inside one of the two active 250-foot by 100-foot processing bays, the rocket's two stages will be connected.

The HIF also has extra storage room to house as many as six rockets at one time.

A horizontal rollout to the launch pad will occur after about 16 days inside the HIF. The rocket is erected upright atop the launch table and enclosed by the mobile service tower.

During the stay on the pad, any strap-on solid motors will be attached within the first four days and the satellite cargo will be transported from a separate processing facility to join the rocket. The satellite will be already encapsulated inside the payload fairing.

The Delta 4 rocket should spend less than 30 days at the launch site from delivery to liftoff.

Boeing has sold 19 Delta 4 rockets to the Air Force, the first of which will carry a Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) spacecraft into orbit in 2002.

Commercial launches already booked include flights for Loral Space and Communications and the SkyBridge satellite constellation aimed at providing high-speed multimedia services to Earth.

Boeing is also planning its West Coast Delta 4 launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The company has leased Space Launch Complex 6, the pad once envisioned for NASA's space shuttle.

SLC 6 will be modified to support Delta 4 and the major elements of the shuttle-era pad will remain. However, the rockets will be processed at a separate building -- like in Florida -- and rolled horizontally to the pad. Other changes include installing a large erector system and replacing the launch table.

Furthermore, Boeing is keeping open the possibility of building a second pad at Cape Canaveral, to be called SLC 37A.

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